Sunday, December 16, 2012

Honolulu Marathon, December 2012

Honolulu may seem like an odd place to go to run a marathon. Even in winter, the weather is generally warm and humid - not ideal marathoning conditions by most people's standards - and the course includes a couple of hills around the Diamond Head crater. But for me, for a few reasons Honolulu makes great sense as a destination marathon.

Firstly, it's not such a long trip from the east coast of Australia. It's about half the travel time compared to New York - which I was originally intending to run - and the time difference (effectively only 3 hours) is vastly easier to overcome. When NYC marathon was cancelled in the wake of Hurricane Sandy it seemed like fate was on my side, and then when the other option, CIM, turned out to be a weather disaster (rain and gale-force winds), I figured Hawaii was definitely the place to be.

Secondly, as I proved at Boston earlier this year, hot weather isn't necessarily a disaster for me and my marathon performance. I ran - and won - a local 11km (6.75 mile) race recently in 90+ degree temperatures and full sun, averaging around 6:12 min/mile. I'm actually not sure if I do run better in cold conditions; at any rate, warmth doesn't seem to slow me down as much as it could. I think I'm fortunate in this regard.

The Training 
After the Wagga trail marathon in August, I recovered for a bit and then launched into my most ambitious (and strenuous) Pfitzinger training plan to date: a 12 week plan, peaking at 105 miles per week, and early on I set my goal marathon pace at 6:31 minutes per mile. This would, in theory, get me a race time of 2:50:30 - ambitious, for sure, but not necessarily impossible.

All this went quite well with no major niggles or threatened injuries, and during the cycle I ran a 10K PR (38:13, at the end of my 3rd consecutive week over 100 miles) and also a 5K PR in the same race (18:47ish). In my usual OCD style I added miles to the first week of taper, so my training cycle became 10 weeks averaging just under 97mpw, then a 2 week taper up to race day. 

The Travel 

Honolulu marathon has been described to me as the Japanese equivalent of Boston, and sure enough the first thing to strike me as we walked around Waikiki in the few days before the race was the incredible numbers of Japanese tourists, many of them dressed in outlandish running outfits (even when clearly not out for a run), and large groups of them jogging along the beachfront at Waikiki or doing strange stretching drills in the park. 

The expo was absolutely hilarious - very little merchandise, with Adidas as the only major sponsor, but everything with a distinct Japanese flavour. If I had wanted a pink frilly running skirt with fluorescent striped capri leggings attached, I could have been the happy owner of one that day. I have never seen cutlery on sale at a marathon expo before either, but I could have taken some home if I had wanted to.

To my surprise, the only type of energy gels on sale at this expo were Honey Stinger ones, a brand we don't have in Australia and which I have therefore never tried. GU gels are my usual choice, but it seemed dumb to bring some when they cost 1/3 as much in the USA as they do in Australia. When there were no GUs to be found, obviously I had to get something, so I chose a selection of flavours (both with and without caffeine) and hoped for the best.

For this marathon, as with CIM and Boston, I had the distinct advantage of being able to talk with friends who have run the course before and were able to make some wise observations, ones that would prove very useful to me during the race. Weslie - my CIM roommate and Oahu local - has run Honolulu many times and we drove part of the course together on our way to a VERY yummy brunch on Friday (thanks, Wes!). She made the comment that once you get back off the freeway there are only 4 miles to go, and that helped me a lot in planning the final miles of the race.

My final pre-race run was a nice 5 miler around Diamond Head with my other Honolulu-based RWOL friend Yo, who also talked me through the race and in particular the best approach to the hills that miles 7-9 and 24-25 would bring. We parted company at the finish line with a plan to meet near there again in just under 24 hours' time.

I finished that run with a 3 minute sprint down Waikiki beach (dodging surfboard-wielding tourists, possibly a rather foolhardy idea) and back in the hotel room I began my version of the Aussie carb-loading regime by drinking lots of Gatorade, followed by a day lounging around by the hotel pool gorging on bagels and toast, Clif bars, fries, peanut butter M&Ms….a smorgasbord of carbohydrates that left me feeling gross and full all day. After a comparatively light dinner we retired at 8:30pm with multiple alarms set all over the room, the earliest for 2:45am to ensure we would make it to the buses before 4am.

Race Day
I'm actually already awake before the first alarm goes off, and I have no trouble hopping straight out of bed and into my race outfit, which I have prepared (yes, OCD again) the night before and laid out with my shoes and various other accessories. At 3am I wash down a peanut butter Clif bar with some coffee-flavoured milk. By 3:30 I'm out the door and walking to Honolulu Zoo, where rows of buses are waiting to transport runners to the start line near Ala Moana.

At the start area there are indeed a LOT of people in what seems like fancy dress. I'm expecting to run the first 2 hours of the race in darkness, but it's 76F/24C already and so I'm wearing the bare minimum: a pink running bra, my lucky pink shorts, toe socks and my ageing ASICS Gel Racer 9s. Around me there are many people who look like they're going to be out there for 5 hours and more, but are wearing full-length tights and shirts, with all manner of weird clothing over the top. There's a person who appears to be dressed as a taco. And oh my god, over there is Minnie Mouse, the Asian runner dude whom I have seen at Boston and NYC already. This guy is everywhere!

I make a last-minute dash for the porta-johns, and then finally I push my way as close to the starting line as I can (Yo and Wes have both warned me that the self-seeded start is a total bunfight, with walkers up front going for the photo opportunity, so I have no qualms about shoving my way forwards) and wait for the gun. But there's no gun, instead there are fireworks! And so begins the 40th Honolulu Marathon, with me heading out to run the race of my life.

Miles 1-3: 6:28, 6:36. 6:20 (pace in min/mile)

It's not too congested, to my surprise, and I'm able to hit goal pace pretty easily for the first mile. Minnie Mouse appears to my left and charges ahead of me at the first intersection. Whoa - is he going too fast or am I going too slow? Checking my Garmin is something of a challenge since it's still pitch dark, but I manage it nonetheless. All around me are men (that's normal) and everyone pounds along in silence through the darkened streets. There are groups of cheering supporters here and there; at mile 2 they seem to be yelling out "Almost done!". Really?? Listening closer I conclude they are probably yelling something in Japanese. Or they are Japanese who really think we're nearly done. Either is possible I guess....

After 2.5 miles I decide it's time to take my first gel, a change in strategy that is entirely due to a recent discussion with my online running group about fueling. My skimpy outfit has made it a challenge to find places to store all 4 gels, so I have one in each pocket and two in my bra. The latter two are kind of annoying me, actually, so I fish one out and find it's strawberry flavour, with caffeine. I tear it open and manage to get it down.

Miles 4-6: 6:22, 6:22, 6:28

I'm able to effortlessly pick up the pace very slightly during this section, which takes us back through Waikiki and past our hotel.This is what Yo advised me to do, and so far I'm settling in very comfortably. Ahead of me is a guy wearing a retro-type red outfit and he has a mop of very curly hair that he has attempted to stuff into a dark cap. He reminds me of someone I know from RWOL - A Muse, who ran a 2:46 earlier this year - and he seems to be running exactly at my target pace. Shadowing him, whilst thinking over many of the bits of running wisdom that A Muse has imparted to me over the years (and some of the fights, including the time he called my roadrunner-210-steps-per-minute cadence "ridiculous"), keeps my mind happily occupied for these few miles.

Speeding along in the dark

During the latter part of mile 6 we approach the finish area but turn left and head around the edge of Kapiolani Park as we make our approach to Diamond Head. Suddenly I'm in amongst a group of maybe 6-8 guys. One of them asks me what place I'm in amongst the women. I laugh and tell him honestly that I have NO idea, but I'm not an elite. I'd love to stay and chat but I look at my Garmin and they're going way too slow, so I pull ahead and start chasing the next group: a tight-knit pack of 5 runners whom I will be seeing ahead of me for much of the next 2 hours. I go through the 10K mark in 40:14 - a bit faster than my stated goal pace, but on track to break 2:50. So far it still feels possible…..

Miles 7-9: 6:26, 6:39, 6:26

Rather evil elevation chart
Off we go up the steep hill that I've run so many times when I've been in Hawaii. It's every bit as steep as I remember, but I'm handling it well and soon I catch and pass the group ahead. One has a purple singlet with "COACH" on the back (I assume this is to do with running, not the luxury handbags) and another is shirtless with grey running shorts and yellow Newtons. They're clearly shooting for sub-2:50 and I wonder if I can stay with them for the rest of the race. A couple of wheelchair racers are struggling up the incline and I pass them too. God, that looks like bloody hard work.

As I continue upwards a street light must be out, because suddenly I'm running in almost total darkness. I can't check my Garmin at all so I just keep going, and mile 8 turns out to be my slowest so far. Quite abruptly there is also a very strong headwind, and I'm running by myself now so I can't tuck in behind anyone. It strikes me that this wind is going to be a big problem if it doesn't die down soon. Finally I reach the top of the hill and am rewarded with a sharp right hand turn into a moderately steep downhill. Time to make up some time, I hope. I take another gel at this point - ugh, it's a sickly honey flavour - and pray that it will give me speed.

Miles 10-12: 6:26, 6:31, 6:29

Through 10 miles in around 1:04, the Coach and his group (including Yellow Newton Dude) pass me again - they're going way faster than I want to right now, so I let them go. Heading onto the freeway the headwind is BRUTAL and I see sub-2:50 sliding away from me; never mind, I can still PR if I hold things together. The top wheelchair guys are on their way back now, and watching them keeps me distracted as I battle the wind that doesn't seem to want to let up. A couple of guys appear behind me - they're trying to draught off me, poor things - after half a mile I decide to let them do the work, but when I fall in behind them the pace drops to around 6:44. Too slow, ugh, so I step out and go back to forging my own path ahead. 

Miles 13-15: 6:39, 6:34, 6:35

I go through halfway in 1:25:54. That's a full minute off where I wanted to be at this stage, but there's no point worrying about that now. I'm watching for the male elites to be coming back on the other side of the road anytime now, and soon there they are: floating along, with the current world record holder Wilson Kipsang right in the middle of the pack. As usual it's totally thrilling to watch them pass, and any disappointment I felt at knowing that my A goal is not going to happen, dissolves in the joy of seeing the world's best marathoners at work.

Soon afterwards I get the shock of my life: around mile 14.5 something makes me glance to my left and there on the median strip I see a female elite (who looks Kenyan) lying prone beneath a palm tree. WTF??? She lifts her head, so I know she's not dead, but she doesn't look to be getting up anytime soon. There's an aid station about 400m ahead - as I pass through at speed, I start yelling at the volunteers "There's someone lying on the road back there!! I think she needs help!!" - it might seem harsh that I don't stop to render her assistance, but I'm pretty sure she would not have done anything different if the roles had been reversed. I keep yelling until I'm out of breath (which doesn't take long, unfortunately) and I need to get myself some water, too. Later I look through the results and find out her name: Doreen Ngunu, and she is indeed Kenyan. 

As I push on through the horrible headwind it does also occur to me that now there's one less female ahead of me; I still don't have any clue what place I'm in, but it just improved by one I guess! Yay? It might be karma but after having this thought I take my 3rd gel, and for whatever reason almost choke to death on the horrible thing. I think it's strawberry, or maybe banana flavour, but it's significantly runnier than my usual GU gels and half of it goes down the wrong way. The rest seems to stick in my throat, stinging and burning. YUK! I run onwards, spluttering, coughing, and trying not to throw up. Schadenfreude, anyone?

Miles 16-18: 6:37, 6:44, 6:23

Now we're at the far point of the race, around Hawaii Kai, and we gradually loop back so that the headwind finally becomes a tailwind. Paradoxically, mile 17 is my slowest of the entire race: either I'm just spent after all this time being blown backwards, or I lose focus dreaming about how nice it will be to have the wind at my back, or I'm just not paying attention. I manage to speed up enough in mile 18 to make some of it up, and as I head into the final part of the race a massive stream of runners is literally pouring along on the other side of the freeway now. Actually, quite a lot of them are yelling things at me like "Go girl!" and "Looking strong!", and it's very endearing. The nasty headwind and the near-lethal gel experience are forgotten and once again I'm enjoying the race. 

The tailwind is great but the humidity is significantly more noticeable now; also, the sun is finally coming up and it's warming up for real. I've been dumping water on my head since about mile 6 and I don't stop now - each water station is a repeat of Boston, where I sip some water and throw the rest all over myself. My hair and shorts are drenched, flapping against my head and legs respectively, and once again I probably look like a small, pink, drowning rat, but it worked then and I'm counting on it to work again today.

Miles 19-21: 6:36, 6:32, 6:36

During mile 19 I catch and pass Yellow Newton Guy, who tells me I'm doing great. I thank him and say "nice shoes" - who knows what he makes of that, at this point, but I hope he gets a laugh out of it. Weslie's sage advice helps me out a lot here; as mile 20 approaches I know it's only 2 miles until we get off the freeway, then 2 more to the top (almost) of Diamond Head, and then there will only be 2 more miles to go (well, just over, but whatever). This kind of mental trick is something I've used for well over 10 years and it helps me GREATLY again now. During mile 21 I am due to take my final gel - I fish it out of my bra and hang onto it for maybe half a mile before working up the courage to open the bloody thing. This time I'm using great caution so I only swallow half of it to start with; when this goes down okay I carefully suck down the rest and breathe a sigh of relief. 

Miles 22-24: 6:36, 6:29, 6:40

Off the freeway at last, I run past a gas station and around a sharp corner to the left. A grey-haired man standing beside the road yells at me "You're 10th woman and 51st overall!". I yell back as confirmation "10th??" and he replies "Yes! And there's a woman about a quarter mile ahead!" Oooh - yeah, I can see her - she looks Japanese and she's wearing all-over neon yellow. I don't think I have it in me to catch her now, but then again why not play a little game of Assassin Mode? It can't hurt at this point - I feel pretty strong, although speeding up may be harder than it sounds, particularly since we have the final hill coming up soon - so I fix my eyes on her and watch for the next half mile. Sure enough, I'm gaining on her, ever so slightly but I'm definitely gaining. Will I be able to get her??

During mile 23 the uphill part begins and I pass a guy in a blue shirt who looks familiar. I've actually traded places with him a fair few times during the race; when he sees me pass now, he starts yelling encouragement at me about Neon Girl ahead: "Go get her! You can do it! PUSH, PUSH, GO!!" I mutter to myself "Ok, ok, geez" - it's like he wants me to take off sprinting or something - and try to pick up the pace. Emphasis on "try", because at this point in a marathon it's rather tough to speed up, let alone do so on any sort of hill. But I push onwards and when I crest the final rise, there is Neon Girl maybe 100m ahead of me. Ooh, can I make my way into 9th place??

Miles 25-26: 6:39, 6:08

The downhill starts and I'm concentrating as hard as I can on putting one foot in front of each other, controlling my descent but at the same time letting it flow as fast as possible. Just behind Neon Girl is a person with a curly ponytail and girly-looking arms, although their legs are suspiciously hairy; it keeps me occupied for a while trying to figure out if this person is male or perhaps another female elite (albeit with some hippy inclinations), and if I can get them both then maybe I can finish in 8th place. As we hit the flat towards the end of mile 26, I conclude that no, it's a bloke for sure, and as I pass him Neon Girl is now within striking distance. I made up a LOT of time over mile 26 - but as we turn into the chute, my god that finish line is just SO far away. Put your head down, Rachel, and GO!!!

Last 0.2 miles 6:14 pace

Halfway down the finish chute I pull alongside Neon Girl at last. But she glances over, sees me there and puts on a kick that I just cannot match. It's taking all I have just to keep going; accelerating is out of the question. I hear Weslie screaming my name, but I'm too deep in the zone to acknowledge her.

I look up and see 2:52:00 approaching on the clock. I'm going to make it across in 2:51:x or die trying, so I dig deep and sure enough, I hit the line in 2:51:56. NEW PR!! WOO HOO!!

Official time: 2:51:56, 6:34 pace

Placement: 10th female, 38th overall, 1st in F40-44 AG (elites in their own group, sweet)

Splits: 1:25:54 / 1:26:02


I stand under the shower spray in the finish area until I'm completely drenched, and then walk slowly towards the water tables. I feel spent but nowhere near collapse, and I know I've run the best possible race I could have run today. Neon Girl sees me - she has beaten me by 8 seconds - and it's obvious she speaks no English. My schoolgirl Japanese is equally inadequate, so we smile at each other, shake hands and bow politely. As I make my way out I hear Weslie calling me, and together we wander into the finish area. We pass the Shiatsu massage tent and I go in for my first ever massage - who knows if it will help with recovery, but why not, right?

We meet up with Yo (3:01:40) and his Kiwi mate Richard (3:05:xx, and it turns out he's a bandit, something he did not care to disclose to any of us at the time!) and stand around under a huge banyan tree, happily talking about running and our plans to meet again in Boston.

On the leaderboard!!
The Analysis
Looks like 100mpw really works! Without the hills and the horror headwind, I think 2:50 might have been a real possibility, but in the face of it I think I made the most of the day and ran as well as I could have. An 8-second positive split is as close as I've ever come to perfectly even pacing and speaks volumes for my endurance, which is probably my greatest strength in marathon running. If only the weather gods will smile on Boston in 2013, the next - and possibly ultimate - goal of sub-2:50 may indeed be within my reach!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Run4Fun 10K, November 2012

Last year this 10K was the scene of a tasty PR (almost a minute off my old one from 2007) and when an email arrived from the promoters announcing the race for 2012, it did not take much thought before I signed up. In doing so, I discovered that my time from 2011 earned me a seeded start! Would I like that? Of course I would!

But when the bib arrived with "STANTON" emblazoned across it, I had a moment of horror: all I could think was "but, but, but.....I suck at short distances!" If I crashed and burned, how embarrassing would that be, with a seeded bib on? Ugh. It did not bear thinking about, so I just put down my head and went on with my marathon training, which had become rather overwhelming of late.

The Training
Once again I was mid-way through a cycle of Pfitzinger marathon training, and the race probably could not have come at a worse time, sandwiched as it would be in the middle of 4 consecutive weeks of over 100 miles. I shifted all the heavier days to earlier in the week - running my 22 miler on Thursday morning starting at 4:25am - and attempted a taper of sorts, but even so had 95 miles on my legs already for the week going into race day.

Also, I was not reassured by the fact that I had struggled to hold pace under 6:20 minutes per mile in a recent tempo run; but what the heck, a child-free running trip (however short) is nothing to be turned down. So off to Sydney we went, since I had registered my husband for the race as well (oops).

The Travel
The location of this race - in and around the Olympic Park where the Sydney Games were held in 2000 - is absolutely fantastic. There are a number of hotels right there and I'm able to get a free night's accommodation at the nicest of them, setting us up for a lovely relaxing race prelude.

We fly out from Wagga in the afternoon, meander around the CBD shops and go to the movies (carb-loading on popcorn is perfectly acceptable for a 10K, right?), then make our way to the hotel where we enjoy a lovely meal in the on-site restaurant. Compared with my usual pre-race routine, which involves focusing enormous amounts of energy on the needs and demands of two small (but wild) children, this is pure bliss.

Race Day
Through our window on the 11th floor I can see the start line, and at 6:30am when I get up there are a lot of people already milling around down there. The forecast calls for clouds and16C/60F at the start, so I head out for a warm-up run at 7:15am dressed in shorts, singlet and a throw-away Gap sweater that I've had since 2007.

Eventual race outfit
My legs feel better than they did yesterday, at least, but I'm still feeling far from zippy as I plod through my two miles. I'm trying to come up with an excuse to use in the event that I can't even break 40 minutes today, but nothing springs to mind. Better probably just to not think about it....and the irritating song my son has been making me listen to all week comes in very useful now: my mind goes blank and I just potter along humming its inane lyrics to myself.

The sun is starting to break through now, and although it probably won't be as warm as last year, I'm still way overdressed. So after my warm-up I shed both the sweater and singlet, re-pin my bib to my bra and head down to the starting line. On the way I down a vanilla GU (for luck as much as for anything else) and find a water fountain to wash it down with. There's a nice coolish breeze but the sun is warm; at the preferred/seeded runners' area I stand in the sunshine and it's really quite lovely. I make small talk with a couple of other women - some of it about how we're surrounded by blokes - as we stand about 4 rows back from the line, and then the gun goes off and ugh, time to try to run fast.

Mile 1: 5:58 (pace in min/mile)
Heading up the slight incline past the main stadium, I feel like I'm putting in quite a lot of effort. At the 1km mark I look at my Garmin and realise why: it reads 3:34, which is 5:44 min/mile. Ah, I can ease it back a bit then - and although I do, the next part is a gentle downhill and the first mile passes in sub-6:00 pace. Cool!

Mile 2: 6:00
Wow, I actually feel quite okay running at this pace. The second half of this mile is a gentle uphill back towards our hotel and although it feels tough, it's not unmanageable and again I'm pleasantly surprised when my Garmin beeps to inform me of my pace. The big question is: am I going to be able to hang on the whole way? Hmmm, I have no idea really.

Mile 3: 6:04
Halfway through this mostly flat mile I check my pace and it's still around 6:00. Impulsively, I make a decision: even though I suspect I'm going too fast, I'm definitely not going to slow down deliberately. I want to run at least the first 5K at this pace, and if that means I die in the second half, so be it. My 5K PR (only having raced, um, one) is pathetically soft and I feel I must improve on it even if nothing else comes out of today.

So, the 3rd mile goes past in similar fashion to the first two, and I hit the 5K mark in 18:47 by my watch. A much more respectable PR and I'm claiming it for sure!

Mile 4: 6:12
Small loss of focus here, possibly I relax a little after the 5K marker is behind me. It's starting to feel hard now, this level of effort, but it helps that I've only got 2 miles to go.

Mile 5: 6:03
Right at the start of this mile, I see a woman ahead of me with a dark ponytail and tan lines on her back that make me think she's probably a triathlete. It's hard to tell from behind, but there's something about her that is familiar.

I've picked up the pace a bit again, and soon I pull alongside, then pass her. I hear her grunt something and then she passes me back - we go on like this for most of the mile, although I'm deliberately not letting it phase me - I know there are plenty of other female runners ahead of me so it's not like we're duelling for an overall place or anything.

Finally there's a slight uphill stretch and I leave her behind. Immediately she's out of my mind because I have other issues to focus on: the memory of this final mile from last year, and it's not pretty.

Mile 6: 6:13
This is the part that goes on a gentle uphill past the main stadium, in full sun, before making a right hand turn and heading towards the final stretch into the stadium. Last year it sucked, and this year is no different. I'm passing quite a lot of men now, and a few are inspired to start sprinting to stay ahead of me - normally this would probably make me snigger and speed up more, but I'm too deep in my own head to pay much attention.

The two thoughts going around are "KEEP IT GOING" and "god, I'm never running a 10K ever again", and at the time I mean it. This is really hurting now - the slight downhill around the back of the stadium is a small relief, but I'm not surprised when my Garmin informs me I just ran my slowest mile of the race. At least the suffering is almost over.....

Finish: 5:54 (0.3 miles by Garmin)
Around the corner I go and into the tunnel that will bring me into the Olympic Stadium. There is a timing clock by the road and it has just clicked over to 37:00 - this is the boost I need to keep it going - there's no way I'm not going to PR now.

But the tunnel is longer than I remember it, somehow, and it feels like forever before I pop out into the sunshine and onto the grass. Thankfully the finish line is relatively close, so I put my head down and give it everything I've got --- and it's over at last.


Finish time: 38:13, 6:09 pace

Placement: 8th OA female (of 2167), 1st AG (of 518).

Crossing the finish line, it's an exquisite relief to stop running and I grab some water, since I haven't drunk anything throughout the race. A very skinny woman in purple, whom I vaguely remember seeing ahead of me for much of the race, comes up and congratulates me on a strong run. She says "I just couldn't stay with you on that final uphill" -- I laugh and congratulate her back, but she's not the woman with the tan lines -- what happened to her? I'm standing in the bleachers watching for my husband to finish (he ends up with 46:09, a very respectable new PR) when suddenly I see her, and to my extreme surprise she waves and says "You got me again, Rachel!" WTF??

Turns out she is the woman I sledged in Port Macquarie last March (around mile 4 in the report) and whom I also beat in the F40-49 age group for this race last year. I remember now she asked me about the 2011 Run4Fun after the Port Mac HM - where I beat her for 3rd place - I'm becoming something of a nemesis for this poor woman, and I can't even remember her name!

Stadium behind, smug runners in front

The Analysis
Well, if I can run both 5K and 10K PRs in a race during the most intense marathon training I've ever done, I guess that has to be a good sign. And 6:00 pace, or at least sub-6:10, seems a lot more manageable than it ever has before. Suddenly the idea of a marathon at 6:30 pace doesn't seem the wildly insane idea it was about 7 weeks ago.....and the planets appear to be aligning for something special in Honolulu on December 9.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Lake to Lagoon Fun Run, September 2012

The Lake to Lagoon is Wagga's biggest (and, um, only) road race and afforded me a minor degree of local celebrity last year, when I won it mostly untrained and in not much style at all (ending up in the medical tent is never a good look).

This year, the pressure was totally on to repeat my victory, especially after my success in the Trail Marathon 3 weeks earlier. I knew that I was in great running shape - 2012 has been my best year of running ever - and that barring someone speedy showing up from out of town, I had a good chance of winning again.

BUT - my immune system apparently had other ideas. The head cold that had me feeling disgusting on the morning of the City2Surf passed quickly enough, but in the week before the Lake to Lagoon I realised I was now getting laryngitis. On Friday morning I started coughing, and by Saturday it was clear that the virus was planning on heading south to my lungs. I prepared myself with a ventolin inhaler and some cough suppressant, which at least meant I got a reasonable sleep on Saturday night, but when I awoke on Sunday not really any better, I knew anything could happen during the course of the run.

The Training
Nothing specific - I just ran as much as I could in the week after the trail marathon (on VERY sore legs) and hit 76 miles the week after that. I cut back on the distance some in the lead-up to the Lake to Lagoon, left out the weekly long run altogether, and just counted on the race distance (9.5km or just under 6 miles) being short enough that I could treat it as a tempo run and not die. Also, the knowledge that I had run the City2Surf at an overall pace that I would happily accept for this shorter race meant I had some measure of confidence going into it.

Race Day
A chance to sleep in! The ridiculously late 10:30am start for this race has at least one advantage: I get to snooze until 7am, when the kids come in and jump on me, demanding raisin toast and my undivided attention. It's a cool and cloudless day, perfect for running, although I know it will probably get quite warm later on.

My husband is running the race too, so we drop Mum and the kids off in town at the park where the race finishes, and drive home to finalise our preparations. I run a 2 mile warm-up up and down our street, and make two important decisions - I need less socks, and MORE PINK. I ditch the black compression socks in favour of some grey/pink Injinji toe socks that I love (it's too warm to wear long socks) and change my black shorts for the pink ones that have been my lucky racing charm this year.

We run another mile together to the start, where we easily insert ourselves right behind the start line - a big advantage of this small race, although the large number of young kids also lined up right there is a distinct problem - and mooch around chatting to various acquaintances. Our friend Paul is there - he who made me start out way too fast last year - I tell him impertinently "I'm going to beat you this time" and he just laughs knowingly.

Before too long it's time for the dorky warm-up stuff and I find myself right behind the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott. Can't say I respect his politics, but I respect a man who can run. Right up until the gun goes off and he sets off at a snail's pace, forcing me to dodge and weave like a maniac in order to get in front. What a loser!

The start, with many tweens and teenagers right at the front

Mile 1: 6:03 (pace in min/mile)
Hurtling along the first mile, the kids are thick and fast in front of me, but all totally dying within about 200 meters. At one point I grab the two in front of me by the shoulders and say "LOOK OUT" whilst moving them as gently as I can to each side - they're zigging and zagging for all they are worth, and the last thing I need now is to be taken out by a 12 year-old. Thankfully the crowd thins quickly and by the time we pass the 1km mark I've overtaken the last female ahead of me. Now to see if I can hold onto the lead.

Mile 2: 6:29
Oooof. This whole mile is uphill: not a steep incline, but it goes on and on and on. I know I've slowed down, but the guys ahead of me are slowing down more, so I concentrate on staying comfortable and in control. We're out in full sun on Lake Albert Road now, and it's a lot warmer than I was expecting. I grab a cup of water from the table halfway up, even though they are both plastic and WAY too full. Water goes all over the place, but at least some of it makes it into my mouth. Yay, I think.

Mile 3: 6:17
Halfway through this mile we crest the hill and start the descent towards town. A couple of men go pelting past me - I'm vaguely wondering if one of them is Crazy Downhill Guy from the Trail Marathon - and then it happens: I start catching up to the cyclists, who started the race 30 minutes earlier than the runners. Uh oh, this might be a problem.

Newspaper clipping, with extra quads muscle on top

Mile 4: 6:01
Around the corner into Copland Street and into the steepest part of the descent. A couple of kids on bikes go whizzing past, with their parents in hot pursuit screaming "WATCH OUT FOR THE RUNNERS!!" But I'm in no danger, thank god, and I'm feeling a LOT different to last year - this is around where I started to feel dizzy and weird. I do a quick check: brain, breathing, legs, it's all feeling good. It's pretty much all flat from here, time to dig in and go as fast as I can to the finish. Without hitting the wall, of course.

Mile 5: 6:19
Now we're running along beside the river, on a path that was part of the Trail Marathon. It's rough in places, with a few undulations and some narrow sections, but I'm ready for it this time. A guy in front of me is wearing a t-shirt with "THE JUDGE" printed in black across the back - but before I can wonder what the heck that means, we come around a corner and encounter a small child on a bike.

He's right in the middle of the path, stuck halfway up a short but steep incline. His mother is standing next to her bike at the top, begging him to move, but the poor little guy just can't. Does my maternal instinct take over? Do I stop and gently push him to the top? No bloody way! And anyway, I don't need to because the Judge - an obviously fast and competitive runner - has just stopped to help the child.....while I neatly side-step the whole debacle and keep going. Winning!

Mile 6 (0.88 miles): 6:18
We finally leave the levee bank and drop down to the road. The finish area is almost in sight! I'm not sure if I have much of a kick left, but I know I'm probably well ahead of the nearest female runner, so I'm not exactly motivated to kill myself in the home stretch. The Judge reappears next to me and, with about 400m to go, he suddenly takes off at a sprint. Good for him! I'd like to do the same, but I'd rather not fall in the lap of the timing lady as I cross the line this year, so I'm not trying very hard.

As we get closer to the final turn there are people yelling my name - I can't make out any of their faces, although the ones yelling "GO MUMMY!" are hopefully my children -  and as I turn into the finish chute I hear the announcers declaring that I'm the female winner. Hooray, I did it! Again!

My husband finishes strong in 44:07, a substantial PR for him (and he's beaten that politician by over 2 minutes), so we're both beaming and strutting around the Lagoon area when our son takes this photo of his overexcited parents:

Fastest married couple in the race??

Finish time: 36:39 (6:15 pace and a new race record!!)

Placement: 23rd OA, 1st OA woman

The kids are beyond excited that I won again, and I get my photo taken with a humungous trophy that I've never seen before, yet it has my name on it already from last year. Weird, but whatever! The prize money is rather different to the trail marathon spoils (a $20 gift card for a local sports store) but the race is free and I'm so excited to have finished upright that I really don't care.

Man, these trophies are HEAVY. And why is mine smaller??

The Analysis
Not much brainpower required to figure out why I felt so much better this year than last; the challenge is going to be seeing if I can run it faster next year or not. In theory (according to the McMillan calculator) I should be running close to 6:00 min/mile for this distance, although the hill might give me a little bit of wiggle room, so I guess 36:00 is the next goal.

Meanwhile, here's a clip of me talking REALLYFASTANDOVEREXCITED on local TV!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Wagga Wagga Trail Marathon 2012

I am definitely NOT a trail runner. A year ago I bought a pair of pink (of course) Asics trail shoes and up until last weekend I had run a grand total of 30 miles in them. But with a couple of really satisfying road marathons under my belt already this year, I was enticed by the thought of something new.

I've run the half-marathon and the 10K events in the Wagga Wagga Running Weekend before: I came 3rd in the 10K in 2009 and 2nd in the HM in 2010. With all the miles I've been running in 2012, it seemed like a pretty good idea to enter the full marathon this time, and after some encouragement from my friend Paul (the one who almost killed me in the Lake to Lagoon last year, I have no idea why I listen to him at all anymore) I signed up.

Although it would take place at the end of my first week of supposed training for NYC, I figured I could do it as a long training run.....and after googling the results from years gone by, I also figured I could possibly win the race. And thus, armed with these two totally conflicting notions, I ventured forth into the world of trail running.

The Training
Ah yes, training. Well, that would involve NO trail running of any sort; a week off followed by a tough race one week beforehand; not nearly enough sleep and practically no carb-loading at all in the lead-up (unless you count a bowl of cereal for dinner on Saturday night); and no particular taper other than an unintentional single day off the day before. The race would get me to 73 miles for the week - not exactly your usual taper scenario.

Race Day
A beautiful winter's morning greets me as I drive the short distance into town and pull up at Wagga Beach, which is not so much a beach as a small patch of sand next to the Murrumbidgee River.

It's 5C/41F so I pull on my CIM armwarmers (knee socks with holes cut in the toes and heel) and down a vanilla GU before wandering over to the start area, where runners are milling around already. It's all pretty casual so I line up right at the front next to the guy who (unbeknownst to me at that point) will end up being the overall winner. The mayor of Wagga counts down from 5 to 1 - clearly they don't trust him with a gun - and off we go along the river heading south.

Wheeee! Note Singlet Girl right behind me.

Miles 1-3: 7:33, 7:22, 7:21 (pace in min/mile)
The girl who was just behind me at the start now shoots past me and pulls ahead. She and the bloke running next to her have white/blue singlets with "BALLARAT" on the back - clearly they are associated with some running group in that town, which is maybe 3 hours drive south and across the border in Victoria.

Mexicans! I was beaten in the HM by a woman from Victoria and I'm not cool with the idea of being beaten again in the same manner. I look at the pace: 7:01. Too fast - and I'm too smart now to be tempted to go with her. Disappointment shoots through  me, but I tell myself it's early yet and I have over 20 miles in which to catch her. I settle into a comfortable pace and the miles start ticking by.

Miles 4-6: 7:16, 7:32, 7:44
We are heading out towards my home at Lake Albert and this is all very familiar running territory, so I try to relax and not worry too much about pace - I'm thinking anything between 7:30-7:45 is my overall goal. Behind me a couple of guys, one with a strong Irish accent, are discussing their previous marathons (one has run one, the other none) and their time goals for this race, which they agree is around 3:45.

I have to do it - I drop back and say casually "You guys are going way too fast if that's your goal time." They're both surprised and one remarks that he's banking time in case it gets tough at the finish. He won't believe that this isn't a wonderful idea, so I chat with them for a while, warn them again not to go out too fast, and off we go up Red Hill - the first but most definitely not the last of the big hills.

Elevation profile: ouch, ouch and OUCH.

Miles 7-8: 7:46, 7:32
Red Hill is enormous and it just keeps on going as we turn left at the top and head along the ridge. Irish and his mate drop behind and I'm running on my own for the most part as we make our way through the bush and down to Lloyd. We go through the spot where I got lost 2 years ago in the HM - this time I'm much more aware of the white arrows that someone has painted on the ground, and keeping track of them keeps me busy until it's time to take my first GU.

Thankfully there's a water table coming up, and I have to laugh when I think about the water stops at Boston or Gold Coast - this one is a small picnic table with a jug of water and about 20 cups on it, manned by somebody's lovely grandmother. She hands me a cup and says Watch your step, dear! I'm so enjoying this run that I've almost forgotten what lies ahead.

Miles 9-11: 7:58, 7:56, 7:14
More hills, more hills and more hills. OMG, they don't stop coming. I pass a tall bloke going up a very steep incline, only to have him pelt past me on the subsequent downhill. He gasps out "I always do this, I'm faster on the downhills" when I exclaim at the way he's barrelling along, and then of course I catch him once more on the next hill. I wait for him to pass again on the very pleasant downhill that finally follows, but is that the sound of retching I hear behind me? He never reappears.

Miles 12-14: 7:20, 7:12, 7:42
The downhill portion continues on a narrow single trail through trees and over the odd creek. I start catching more people now - some have "Early Start" bibs on, including an old bloke who is powerwalking dressed in head-to-toe dayglo orange - but others are from the group that shot ahead at the start. So far I've mostly avoided the mud, but now we go through a brick tunnel under a railway line (it's about 25m long and narrow enough that I'm almost doubled over) and there's water all over the place. Splash, splash, enormous jump.

Through halfway in around 1:38, I spot a pair of runners maybe just under half a mile up ahead. Both are wearing white/blue singlets - could it be I'm actually catching Singlet Girl?? This is HUGE! But I have other things to worry about now, because we're heading up the hill towards the biggest challenge of them all: Pomigalana Reserve.

Miles 15 - 16: 7:39, 7:49
Up, up, up we go on fire trail with the occasional narrower stretch. The urge to speed up is overwhelming every time I spot a white singlet ahead of me - I'm still not 100% sure if it's that girl, her male friend or somebody else- but I tell myself I've got 11 miles to catch them, and even if I go just a few seconds per mile faster than they do, it will still be enough. We head into some switchbacks and DAMN she looks close now, it's definitely her! But the path narrows further and becomes a lot more technical, so I focus on my feet and try not to freak out. There's a water stop ahead, so I down a GU and  it pumps me up for the challenge ahead.

Miles 17-18: 8:05, 8:14
I've never run Pomigalana before, so I start getting worried when small signs start appearing on trees next to the track saying "Pete's Precipice", "Dead Man's Gap" and other threatening things. After "Hell's Mouth" I figure it cannot get much worse: we're running on mountain bike track now and it's steep, twisty and rough. I pass an older runner and, distracted momentarily, trip on a tree root. My low centre of gravity and some wild arm-circling keeps me from eating the dust - thank God - and I hear the other guy yell out "That was close!" Too right it was, and the other thing that is now getting close is that Singlet Girl ahead of me.

Miles 19-20: 7:49, 7:07
We finally crest the hill during mile 19 and now I'm RIGHT on her tail. Dilemma - do I hang here and make her push the pace, or do I pass her and deal with the mental pressure of trying to build a lead? I'm definitely going to stay behind her for the next 3-4 miles, I decide, right before she suddenly slows on the descent and.......I go rocketing straight past. Oops. Careering downhill we catch and pass another two male runners, and now I feel the panic rise: she's right behind me, and building a lead that I can hold is maybe not going to be that easy.

Through a turnstile (WTF?) and onto the flat, determined now to win

Miles 21-22: 7:31, 7:29
Off we go down the road, me in front with Singlet Girl in hot pursuit. I'm holding back the panic, telling myself that she went out too fast and that I can hold her off. I'm also remembering the HM 2 years ago, though, where I led for most of the race and was passed in the final few miles. Don't give up, just keep going, don't give up -- but she's breathing down my neck.

After 2 miles we approach a water stop and she slows a lot more than I do: I pull ahead at last. I take my last GU early in an attempt to give myself enough fuel for the duration; I'm aware now that I'm running out of glycogen and mentally I am kicking myself for not carb loading properly yesterday.

The other, possibly bigger obstacle now standing in my way is the presence of 6-7 stiles on the final portion of the race, which runs along the banks of the Murrumbidgee river. They interrupt your rhythm and I hate starting and stopping during a run - but there's no way around them. Onward I go.

Miles 23-24: 7:29, 8:22
At first all goes well and as I slow to climb the first few stiles, I can neither see nor hear Singlet Girl behind me. But really I have NO idea how far ahead I am, so I shake off the thought of winning (or not winning) and concentrate on running. My shoe treads are full of dirt now and it finally happens: I slide on a patch of mud and down I go onto both hands and my right knee. There's not much damage and I hop right back up - I'm not going to let anything stop me now - and decide to discard my armwarmers. They're covered in dirt, I'm starting to feel warm, and I want to look good when I cross the line in first place. I have no idea what is coming, but ignorance is bliss, right?

So, after surviving the fall I'm buoyant, thinking I can really DO this! But then I see it up ahead - a stretch of soft sand, maybe half a mile of it. Ooooof - my pace crumbles and it's all I can do to keep moving. For the first time since the Trails of Death at Pomigalana I slow down significantly, and I feel like I'm barely moving. Ugh, it's horrible, and I can only hope that it's having the same effect on Singlet Girl....

Miles 25-26: 8:02, 7:49
Out of the sand I manage to pull myself together somewhat again, but I'm drained. An enthusiastic timekeeper/water person yells "First lady! First lady!" at me and rings a bell - I'm too wiped out to respond other than to wave and keep going - I wonder if he might ring it again when Singlet Girl comes through, so I keep my ears open, but I hear nothing. Is that a good sign? I really should look around, but I'm too scared.

Final 0.2: 6:08 pace
I can see the finish! It's not as far as I thought, so finally I pluck up the courage to look over my shoulder and --- HOLY CRAP, Singlet Girl is maybe 50m behind me!!

I put my head down and sprint desperately for the line. NO WAY I'm going to let her catch me now! No way no way no way -- and finally I'm over the line in the most inelegant and unphotogenic manner possible:

but I just WON!

Finish time: 3:19:07

Placement: 3rd OA, 1st OA female

Turns out Singlet Girl is just 26 years old, so I have not only scored a victory for local runners (the male winner is also a Wagga resident), I've also struck a blow for Old Running Ladies. And won my age group!

I decide to take an icebath in the river - 15 minutes of agony and a mild case of hypothermia ensue - and then it's time for the presentation. I get a big trophy, a medal and a cheque for $500, then it's off home and back to life as normal, but with exquisitely sore legs.

What next?
Despite enjoying the run and of course the spoils, I'm not sold on trail running as my future direction. It's hard - almost 5 days later I'm still REALLY sore - and I prefer speed over stumbling down technical trails.

But I'm not sure I want to keep racing road marathons one after the other like I have been the past couple of years. Maybe it's time to take things down a notch and stop obsessing over mileage and times, or maybe not. Looking ahead, Boston 2013 may be my next big goal marathon, and beyond that......I really have no idea. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

City2Surf, August 2012

The 14km (8.75 mile) City2Surf is Sydney's best-known running race and is also the biggest race in the world, with some 80,000 participants starting in 3 or 4 separate waves. It was my first ever race, back in 2000 when I was a brand new runner, and I ran it again in 2001 in 55:23, earning myself a Certificate of Merit and a preferred start for 2002.

We all know how THAT turned out, and time and events conspired to keep me from participating again until this year, when I somehow decided that a 14km race the day after a week of skiing (during which no running would happen at all) would be just the right thing to do. After securing a preferred runner start - to make up for the one I missed back in 2001 - not even a flat battery before the 5-6 hour drive from the snowfields could dissuade me from running the City2Surf again.

However! I am usually ridiculously healthy and can count on one hand the number of times I have been sick in the past few years. BUT -  the week at the snow had other things in store for me. Many people get sick while tapering for a marathon, their bodies seeing the sudden reduction in training as some sort of signal to shut the immune system down for a while. For me, no running whilst skiing translated into a day of gastro (thank you, children) followed by the insidious onset of a nasty head cold. During the taper for Gold Coast, I had 2 small kids coughing all over me and in my face for the entire two weeks and I was fine -- but now, I was down for the count. All together now: SIGH.

The travel
We drive up to Sydney from skiing with the obligatory stop at McDonalds, where I sneeze, blow my nose and make myself eat half a piece of banana bread in a very half-hearted attempt at carbo-loading. The kids are extremely excited to arrive at the swanky Shangri-La hotel for a very short (12 hour) stay, and one of them comments on how pretty all the city lights look with all that rain on the windows outside! Rain? Yep, rain. Awesome.

Race Day
I'm awake as usual at 5:30am and lie there feeling reluctant until 6am, when I get up and slink around in the dark getting dressed. I pull an enormous fleece top that is left over from when I was pregnant (yes, it's really enormous) over the top of my race outfit, fill my pockets with vanilla GU pouches, slip my phone into a plastic ziplock bag and set off for the train station. At least it's not raining - and fairly quickly I decide to jog to the start area rather than bothering with the train. In no time at all I am in Hyde Park, and it's fairly deserted still, so I make use of the porta-loos and then just wander aimlessly around until it's time to start warming up.

It's really quite cold, for Sydney, and I don't feel even remotely warm when I finish a few laps up and down William St in front of the start line. I haven't eaten breakfast so I remember to take a GU an hour before the start and another 15 minutes before; that will have to do me until I get to Bondi. I keep the hideous fleece on until there are so many other bodies around me that I can make do without it, and lined up in the preferred runners' area I'm totally surrounded by men who are taller than me. One of them is dressed as Superman (he has a seeded number!) and another as Spiderman (complete with mask) - I have no idea why. At least they're blocking the wind.

I shove my (plastic-bag-protected) phone in the side of my bra, but it feels weird. I stick it down the front, but that's plain strange. I try to stuff it in my shorts pocket, but it's too big. Eventually I decide to put it down the back of my bra. This is not a clever move, and I will find out why in about 7 miles' time.

It might be the cold making my brain fuzzy, but I don't even get nervous while I'm standing there. It's as if I'm just there to hang about with a whole bunch of people, and what's this about a race? Huh? When the gun goes off I'm moderately surprised (did someone get shot?) but I hit my Garmin and move forward with surprisingly little difficulty considering how crowded it is. And wheeee, I'm off down William St with 25,000 of my closest running buddies right around me.

Mile 1: 6:09 (pace in min/mile)
Immediately I don't really feel good. The downhill bit is great but the uphill towards Kings Cross is not - I feel like I'm working too hard and I can't find that "comfortably tough" gear I usually use for races. And, it's cold and windy. I'm starting to resign myself to the fact that I may not beat 2001's time after all. This is the first negative thought that enters my mind, and it won't be the last.

Mile 2: 6:21
Hmm, that's slower than I was hoping - somewhere along the line, 6:20 has become my goal pace. I know that will get me at least close to my ancient PR, so 6:20 it is. The hills just keep coming. I can't get comfortable. Man, this race really SUCKS.

Mile 3: 6:18
I haven't seen Spiderman or Superman again, but now at least I pass Chewbacca, who is loping along and not looking happy. A light rain starts - it's not too unpleasant, but it will be if it gets any heavier - and I'm acutely aware that Heartbreak Hill is coming up soon. Could I get any more disinterested in this race? I wonder.

Mile 4: 6:26
The start of the big hill slows this mile down somewhat. I'm trying to remember how long it is, and memories from 2001 flash through my mind: a fellow runner encouraging me, his words about pumping my arms and keeping my stride short. No problems with the second part of that - my shuffly gait is perfect for hills, really - and soon I'm passing quite a lot of people.

Add caption

Mile 5: 6:52
Ugh, Heartbreak Hill is TOUGH. Much longer and steeper than its parent hill in Boston - and there are no cheering people or signs to let you know it's almost over. I glance at my pace and see 7:11, which makes me seriously annoyed, and that speeds me up enough to get my average pace back up some. And then finally that goddamn hill is over....

Mile 6: 6:08
Ok, this one is a surprise. I still don't feel like I am really running well or all that fast, so 6:08 is not what I was expecting for this mile. I go through the 10K mark in around 39:30, and now there's an evil headwind, and nobody around me really to block it. Lovely - more negative thoughts crowd in and I try in vain to shut them out. My phone is sliding down from between my shoulderblades and I shove it back into position a few times without realising what is about to occur. The course is still undulating but I think that's the last hill - no, that one must be the last - no, that one is definitely it. I think.

Mile 7: 6:41
I'm zooming along past a water stop when it happens: before I can reach for it, my phone (lubricated, no doubt, by sweat and rain) suddenly slides down the back of my shirt and hits the road beside me. OMG! I screech to a stop and grab desperately for it. It takes me several goes to get hold of the bloody thing - during which time, thankfully, nobody steps on it - and some choice words come out of my mouth whilst I'm flailing around trying to keep my balance on the slippery road. Starting back up again feels HORRIBLE - I've never liked stopping during a run - and I've lost at least 10-15 seconds in the process. Bugger. Did I mention that I'm not really enjoying this run? At least there's less than 2 miles to go.

At least I don't look as bad as the guys to my left.....

Mile 8: 5:49
Downhill!!! I shove the stupid phone down the front of my bra; my boobs now look flat and square, which is fine with me at this point. A girl in a white shirt passes me then slows; I pass her right on back and keep going. The mile split beeps and I realise I just made up most of the time I lost on Heartbreak Hill and in the phone fiasco. Could it be that I'm still on track? I cannot bear to look.

Last 0.75 miles: 6:05 pace
This bit is all flat, along Campbell Parade to the roundabout and then a sharp turn onto the finish chute by the beach. I'm telling myself to just keep going, just keep going - white shirt girl passes me but I just don't care. I round the corner and make myself look up: the clock is ticking over to 54:00! I have 90 seconds to get over that line and I'M GOING TO MAKE IT!! I put my head down and sprint with all I've got left, which is not terribly much, and then I'm over the line and grinding to a somewhat wobbly halt.

Almost there!

Finish time: 54:58 (chip time, 6:17 pace)

Placement: 24th OA woman, 2nd AG (F40-49)

The Analysis
New PR! Hooray!! I cannot quite believe it. I really didn't do much right in the lead-up to this race - I got sick, I didn't carb load at all, I didn't run for 7 days beforehand and I did no speedwork at all since Gold Coast - so I'm very happy that I ended up running as well as I did. Not much about the race was fun, though, and unless the weather gods can guarantee me a perfect sunny day next time, I am not particularly interested in running it again. Yeah, I'm getting PICKY in my old age.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Gold Coast Marathon, July 2012

The Gold Coast Airport Marathon has been on my radar since well before I actually started running marathons. It is one of Australia's premier running events and is billed as being fast and flat - I was aware of it and had even signed up for the half-marathon there in 2002, as I remember, but of course was still in plaster with a titanium rod holding my right leg together in July of that year. Not exactly PR-running shape.

Therefore it was the logical choice for my first sub-3 attempt after I ran 3:05 at CIM in December 2011 - because at that time I really thought my chances of running sub-3 at Boston were fairly slim. Accordingly, when that race went so well, Gold Coast assumed even more importance on my racing calendar. My Boston time qualified me for a seeded start, so the race loomed large in my mind for the entire 11 weeks between Boston and July 1, 2012: what if I crashed and burned wearing my seeded bib? How embarrassing would that be?? It did not bear thinking about - so I put my head down and trained as hard as I could.

The training
11 weeks between marathons left me with 2 weeks of post-Boston recovery, 7 weeks solid training and a 2 week taper. I loosely followed a Pfitzinger multi-marathoning plan, but added miles to average 79 miles per week during the solid phase and 69 if you include the other 4 weeks. I was pretty happy with how it all went, and targeted 6:41 min/mile for my marathon pace, which would see me finishing somewhere around 2:56.

I have to admit this felt ambitious, and in training I often found myself defaulting back to the 6:51 I trained at for Boston; even just 10 seconds per mile seemed like a lot more effort. And I felt positively foolhardy when I realised that the ODDyssey HM I ran in Philadelphia in May 2011 - a PR at the time, at least since 2007 - was run at 6:44 min/mile. Just over a year later I'm planning to run faster than that for a FULL marathon? Ooops, perhaps I am.

I was encouraged by my SMH HM time in May, which officially predicted a 2:56:06 marathon, so perhaps 2:55:xx wasn't impossible after all. I'm something of an oddity among runners, in that my performance in the marathon is better than predicted by my shorter race times; this suggests that either I'm a total sandbagger at short distances, or I have something about me that is particularly suited to the marathon. Personally I believe it's a little of both, but my shuffling gait probably is the main factor. It's very efficient for the marathon but I look like an idiot trying to race a 5K - and there is video evidence out there to prove I'm right. But anyway, I digress. Back to the Gold Coast!

The travel
As always, I travel with 2 highly demanding small children in tow, but this time my Mum comes along to help keep them in check. We fly to the Gold Coast via Sydney - where we hang out in the Qantas Club and between them the kids eat enough free lunch to justify our membership for another year - and once landed we drive to our digs in Southport in our snazzy hire car.

We make 2 trips to the Expo for various reasons and on Saturday I run a quick 3 mile shake-out, then accompany my 5 year old son who is running the 2K Junior Dash, his first ever proper race! I'm fully expecting this to take 15-20 minutes so I am thrilled when we cross the line in 11:22, and with only one short stop to take a quick drink. At one point he did clutch his chest and moan "MY HEART IS HURTING", but in true Doctor Parent style I told him to suck it up and keep running, and he did! I'm very proud of my little fledgling runner.

He did it!

Race Day
I wake up relatively easily at 5am and wash down a blueberry muffin with some chocolate milk, then set off at 6am for the race precinct. It's an easy walk and the main challenge is finding the Elite Athlete tent, where my seeded number means I'm entitled to hang out and keep warm before the start. It's not particularly cold but it's lovely to sit under cover and not have to queue up for the porta-loos - well, not when I get there, but a bit later I look up from my iPod to see a bit of a line forming, and for goodness' sake it's full of Kenyans! They are intimidating in a way, all tall and lanky in their professional-looking warm-up suits, and I don't even attempt to talk to any of them. But then Steve Moneghetti appears, does a double-take when he sees me sitting there, and comes over to say hi.

We chat briefly and I tell him how I did in Boston (he's impressed! well probably not really, but he congratulates me and that's good enough for me), then it's time to get ready and suddenly everyone is stripping off and waving sticks of BodyGlide around. I consider ditching my singlet and just running in a sports bra (a la Boston) but it's still reasonably cool and besides, I can't be bothered re-pinning my bib.

The seeded and preferred runners are herded into the area directly behind the starting line; I subtly fade backwards as much as possible and bump again into Steve, who now has a balloon tied to the back of his singlet - he's pacing sub-3:00, as I remember him telling me when we met at Port Macquarie. Then we shuffle forward, the gun goes off and it's ON!

Miles 1-3: 6:32, 6:34, 6:32 (pace in min/mile)
Off we go and instantly every other seeded female runner seems to be ahead of me. Whatever - I'm here to run my own race and the last thing I need to do is start stressing out about placement. My Garmin beeps the first mile and oops, that's a little too fast. I consider slowing down but realise suddenly that Steve Moneghetti, his balloon and the ENORMOUS pack of mostly male runners following it is RIGHT behind me and tearing along at the exact same pace that I am. That's right - I've been told that last year he did something similar, went out at 2:55 pace and slowed down later in the race - so I decide okay, he's pacing me for a while then maybe!

Wheelie to the right,  irritating balloon and huge pace group behind.

I move over and again we exchange greetings. I remark, casually, that he's going a bit fast if he's aiming for 3:00, and the priceless reply comes back: "Oh, shit, really?" Yeah - I tell him my pace band is for 2:56 and we're currently ahead of that - and the second mile beep goes off right then to confirm it. We speed onwards regardless, so I figure I might as well make the most of this, and we talk a bit about Boston and the Newton hills, his pace group and the balloon tied to his singlet. It's giving him the shits, apparently, but it's better than whatever he had last year.

Miles 4-6: 6:42, 6:35, 6:35
During mile 4 we're still debating as to whether we're going too fast or not. My auto lap goes off again and I say "Ooh, that one was right", but I'm referring to my own goal and definitely not 3 hour pace. We just ran a 20:14 first 5K, although apparently the balloon was aiming for 21:00. Finally during mile 5 Steve starts to drop right back, and I find myself pulling ahead of the 4-time Olympic marathoner.

As if to make the moment even more memorable, he and the guy next to him now start a conversation about my stride and how efficient I look. I yell over my shoulder "It's called SHUFFLING, guys!" - Steve laughs and says well it's perfect for marathoning - the other guy complains that it's not fair (huh??) - and the last thing I hear is Steve say is "Especially when they're running away from you!" Suddenly I don't feel quite so silly about my road-runner gait.....

Miles 7-9: 6:43, 6:38, 6:35
I'm mildly distracted in the next mile by two guys who in succession now ask me how fast I'm planning to run, both saying they are aiming for 3 hours and just trying to stay ahead of the Moneghetti juggernaut/balloon. I tell them both in no uncertain terms NO, you need to slow down, he's been going out too fast. One bravehearted fellow hears me say "2:55ish" and declares he's going to stay with me anyway, then promptly tells me he just did an Ironman 6 weeks ago. He ran a 3:40 that day and figures it can't be too hard to knock off 40 minutes, given he hasn't swum or cycled today. Ok then! On we go - and before very long he is gone.

Piling weirdity upon idiocy, now I get passed by a guy who appears to be carrying a plastic shopping bag full of GU and protein bars. WTF?? And he's pulling something out of it every minute or two, or so it seems in the short time we're running close together. A few miles later I catch up to and pass him back, and in the process look down - he's wearing Vibrams. A barefooter?? Of course!

Miles 10-12: 6:38, 6:34, 6:34
During mile 10 I see the leading mens' pack coming back on the other side of the road. It's a tight bunch of mostly Kenyans and Ethiopians, and they're floating along like they're just out for a stroll beside the beach, although I know they're on pace to break the race record of 2:10:01. Just seeing them brings a huge smile to my face and once again I'm thrilled to be back and competing in the sport I love so much, after all those years in the injury wilderness.

And now we're close to the turnaround - I count women coming the other way until I get to 15, then I deliberately stop - better to focus on holding my goal pace than to worry too much about what position I'm in, I think. Coming back the other way I hear a few yells of "GO RACHEL!!" from the other side of the road: one of them is a friend from Wagga who I realise must be going for sub-3 (even though he only runs 30mpw and I warned him a few weeks back not to be too aggressive), one other is probably Tony from the 3:20 thread on MRT, and the rest - I'm not even sure. But thanks! I always try to wave and thank people when they encourage me from the sidelines, but this race I really feel like I'm giving my all and it's starting to get hard to respond in time.

Miles 13-15: 6:37, 6:36, 6:36
Through the half in 1:27:05. I'm ticking off the miles like a metronome, and running right alongside a guy in a white and blue shirt. I consider saying hi but decide my breath is better saved at this point, so we pace along together in silence. At mile 14 I take my second vanilla GU and a small amount of water from one of the marked bottles that have been placed on the elite tables every 5km for me - they have been great until now but I'm starting to feel like I don't want to take on much at all - so in memory of Boston I dump a fair amount of water on my head and back. It's very sunny now and although the breeze is still cool, the sun is starting to bother me.

Miles 16-18: 6:42, 6:33, 6:30
Finally I'm starting to see women ahead of me again, and the idea of Assassin Mode slips into my head. Someone jokingly called me a shark on MRT recently, and we're running right along the beach still - it's time to smell the blood and start reeling in my victims. My silent running partner inexplicably offers me a pep talk at this point, telling me I'm looking really strong, and these factors combine to speed me up as we head closer towards the start/finish zone and the final out-and-back. I pass at least 3 women in this stretch.

Miles 19-21: 6:35, 6:42, 6:43
The course turns back onto the Gold Coast Highway and I head past the apartments where we've been staying - this is the point where I was expecting to see Mum and the kids, but they're not there and after a bit I decide maybe they didn't make it or something. But then - SCREAMS of "Mummy! Mummy! GO MUMMY!!" come from the other side of the road - and there they are, all 3 of them waving and jumping up and down with excitement. I manage to wave and scream back with enough enthusiasm to satisfy them, and that's just the thing I need right now because there's a HILL coming up in this so-called "flat and fast" marathon, and I absolutely do NOT want to run up a hill right now!!

But up the hill I go, and in the process pass another 2 women with seeded bibs on. Hah - maybe I wasn't such an imposter in that elite area after all - but man, passing the turn-off to the finish chute whilst still having almost 6 miles to go is a tough mental hurdle to conquer. All I want is for this to be over, but I have to hold 6:41 for another 6 miles. Can I do it?

Almost there, and digging deep.

Miles 22-24: 6:42, 6:40, 6:41
It's taking every ounce of courage and determination that I have to keep this up. I see photographers but I'm not smiling or flashing peace signs anymore - these are going to be the ugly-suffering-in-pain running photos that I've *mostly* avoided in recent times. There's nothing going through my head but a chant of KEEPITGOINGKEEPITGOINGKEEPITGOING, and my stomach did NOT like that last mile-21 GU at all. Somehow it was mint chocolate not vanilla, and I only took the tiniest sip of water to wash it down; last thing I want here is to have to emulate my friend Jim E and puke whilst running sub-7:00 pace.

Miles 25-26.2: 6:46, 6:47, 6:28 to the end
The wheels are finally starting to come off, but very gradually, and at least I have a tiny little kick left for the finish chute, which seems to go on FOREVER. As I sprint (well that's how it feels) down the final stretch I hear the announcers hoping I'll be the first Queensland woman to finish; I am vaguely wondering how to motion to them that I'm NOT a Queenslander when I hear "oh, no, she's from Wagga but we'll take her anyway" and then I'm over the line. I get to stop now! Awesome!!

Finish time: 2:54:51, 6:41 pace (Garmin reads 26.39 miles and 6:38 pace)

Placement: 14th OA female, 2nd AG F40-44

I grab a plastic vomit bag from one of the volunteers waiting just across the line and refuse the offer of a bottle of water - I'm seriously nauseated and I'm fairly sure I'm going to throw up. But after about a minute the feeling passes, thank goodness, and I'm able to straighten up. I lurk around until Tony shows up - he's run his sub-3 and is happy but just as exhausted as me - together we head for the grass and collapse in the shade of a palm tree. Mona walks past pulling at the evil balloon, and tells me he ran 2:58:something. I ask how the pace group held up and he smiles enigmatically.

Walking back to rejoin Mum and kids, on top of the world (and the Gold Coast apparently)
The Analysis
I'm obviously extremely happy that I managed to hold my goal pace for the entire 26.2 miles (well, a small fade but nothing like my first 2 marathons). Again it's all down to RUN MORE - the best piece of marathon training advice I've ever been given.

The big question now is, how much (if any) faster can I go? I've always felt that as a runner I have a fairly limited speed range - again I think it's probably due in large part to my odd gait - and my pathetic attempt at racing a 5K in March provided some pretty solid evidence supporting that theory.

I'm not quite giving up yet, but I think some serious speedwork is probably in order, and finding the right combination of quality and quantity to my training - whilst obviously avoiding getting injured - is going to take some thought. Maybe I need an online coach to get the most out of my next marathon cycle, or maybe I'll just kick back and take it easy in New York, since I'm registered there already. But whoops, I have sub-elite status there too, and it might be silly not to take advantage of that and go for yet another PR......I guess time will tell!